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Adjusting Food and Routines for Summer

You’ll want to eat for your summer dance schedule in a strategic way. The summer season brings an adjustment in schedule for most dancers. This means your eating plan and meal times will likely need to change as well. It’s a good idea to think ahead, so that you don’t go through a time when you feel totally off track.

For some, the adjustment will be to the intensity of a summer program schedule. For others, you’ll need to adjust to a quieter, possibly less active “lay-off” schedule. Either way, you can eat for your summer dance schedule with balance.

Here are tips for both scenarios!

5 Tips for Eating at a Summer Intensive

1. Front-load your day.

It’s common to feel that you need to overeat in anticipation of a long rehearsal or a long day. Front-loading can work, but it needs to be done strategically to ensure that you’re actually eating when you’re hungry and not just when you think you should. This concept of front-loading is to eat more earlier in the day. That might mean a larger breakfast or a larger breakfast with a snack or 2 before you even start dancing. This can work if you get up a bit earlier in the morning (2-3 hours before your first class) allowing plenty of time to digest.

In addition to eating a bit more earlier in the day, bring lots of snacks that you can eat when you’ve got 5 or 10 minutes here are there. Include a variety of foods, tastes, and textures so you’ll be sure you have something you want to eat. You might pack fruit with nuts or nut butter, trail mix with a mix of dried fruit and nuts, hummus with celery or carrots or pita, olives, snack bars, a sandwich (yes, as a snack!), smoothies, or cereal. Snacking options are honestly endless. Here’s a snacking guide with 30 recipes for inspiration.

2. If you’re eating in a cafeteria, make a round before committing.

Sometimes summer program cafeterias provide a buffet-style experience. This typically means you’ve got too many options. Don’t start to pile things onto your tray until you’ve walked around the eatery once and identified not just the healthiest options, but also the things that will be most satisfying to you in the moment. Include a good mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Remember, you’re fueling many hours of dancing. Do your best to tune into your body at meal times to provide adequate fuel.

eat for summer dance schedule

3. Stay mindful of late night sweets. 

I remember night time in summer intensive dorms being full of candy, cookies, and treats. At the end of a day filled with so much dancing, it’s common to feel like you “deserve” a food “reward.” If you’re attaching your activity level to a food reward, that’s an important thought process to reframe. You can eat candy, cookies, and treats any time. It isn’t dependent on dancing a certain number of hours. Rather than seeing those nighttime foods as a reward, enjoy them if and when you’re truly hungry for and in the mood for them.

If you find that you are hungry for something, consider your options. If you’re allowed to have food in the housing during your summer intensive, have a number of options available so you can choose what you truly want to eat. Some nights you might be in the mood for something sweet, and that might mean having cookies with your friends. Other nights, you might prefer to have some fruit. Allow those variations to truly find the balance that works for you.

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4. Don’t make weight loss one of your summer intensive goals.

The first year I went to a summer intensive, I gained weight. When I got back to my home studio, my teacher let me know it. It was pretty devastating as I was really young at the time, so every summer after that, a big goal for me at summer intensives was weight loss.

To achieve that end, I never ate enough and was definitely lacking the fuel and energy needed to power through those long days of dancing.

Instead of weight loss, you can certainly make one of your goals to prioritize healthy, whole foods. You might also choose the goal to get stronger. Pick a measurable way to track this. E.g., time how long you can hold a balance or extension at the beginning of the summer and 1x each week to see how it improves. Keep the focus on your technical and artistic development instead of your body shape or size.

5. Don’t be influenced by the way your new friends eat.

You’re likely to be surrounded by girls with all different body types. They’ll likely all have different approaches to food as well. Don’t change the way you eat to match a new friend, even if you find her body to be “ideal.”

Just because she has found a way to eat that works for her, doesn’t mean it’s going to be the best way for you to eat. If she seems to have a level headed, healthy approach to food, then by all means, open up a conversation about it. We can certainly learn from the positive influences around us! However, for real support on adjusting your approach to food, work with a health coach or other nutrition professional. You can eat for your summer dance schedule with balance.

5 Shifts to Food and Your Body While on “Lay-Off”

If you’re headed into an extended period of time away from dancing, you may be feeling anxious. Try to look at your break as a chance to grow as a person.

1. This is a great opportunity to experiment with food.

While it’s not the best idea to try new eating plans when you’re dancing intensively, during time off, you might try out some new foods or recipes. Your commitments will be different, so you can adjust the way you eat for your summer dance schedule. This way, if you experience digestive discomfort or reactions to new foods or food plans, you’re not going to be distracted during a rehearsal or performance.

It’s a good time to assess how different food choices impact your energy when the stakes aren’t so high. Pay very close attention to how you feel after eating different meals and snacks. If you are someone who relies on caffeine to power through your day, a lay-off is a fine time to give it up and notice the difference.

2. Use this as a time to experiment with new cross-training options.

Since you have more free time and you’re not dancing as much, try out new ways of movement. It’s also worth noting that summer tends to be a slower season for fitness studios, so many of them offer much less expensive memberships and deals.

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Maybe join a yoga studio and try all the different kinds of yoga they offer: Hatha, Forrest, Vinyasa, Yin, hot. They’re all different and if you haven’t experimented, it’s likely you haven’t found your favorite yet. It took me a long time to get into yoga, but it was a practice that improved my body image significantly.

3. Craft a routine.

Giving yourself the space to do nothing is lovely. It can be really restorative to take some time to do nothing for a week or so after your season ends. Give yourself some space and time for that nothingness, then make a routine.

Maybe there’s a local studio where you can take class 3 days a week, and you’ve got that yoga membership (see #2), so you can decide which classes to take each day. With this structure, you’ll have an easier time figuring out your food plan and falling into a healthy groove.

4. Keep in mind…you may be less hungry than you were during the season.

Naturally, if you’re moving less, you will likely require less fuel. Don’t intentionally undereat, BUT listen closely to your body and don’t take in more than you need.

If you’re in a warm summer climate, you’re also more likely to crave raw, cold, lighter foods. Focus on salads, smoothies, and nutrient-dense bowls with healthy whole grains, lots of lightly steamed greens, protein, and healthy fats.

summer eating strategies

5. Accept that your body may change and that’s OK.

During an active rehearsal and performance season, dancers are one of the few sets of people whose bodies are obviously impacted by that high level of movement. The look of your body, your muscle composition, and your weight will likely be different during the season than when you’re not moving or dancing as intensively.

Don’t let this stress you out.

Even with the change in activity level, it’s unlikely that the changes to your body will be drastic. If you gain weight, it will likely be an amount that will easily recalibrate within a month or so once you get back in the studio and return to your regular rehearsal schedule. Make it a goal to eat for your summer dance schedule with balance.

Whatever Your Plans, Prioritize a Healthy Mindset

Cultivating mental wellness is key to a happy life and dance career. Find the things that light you up outside of dance and make them a regular part of your life. If your relationship to food is shaky, get help. If your body image is unhelpful and distracting, seek support. Summer time is an ideal time to prioritize wellness. If you’re looking for support now, apply for Elite Best Body Coaching. It’s an all-encompassing, holistic transformation program that can change your entire experience and trajectory in dance. Click here for details and to apply.

Are you headed to a summer intensive or into a lay-off? Which of these ideas are you most excited to implement? Share your thoughts in the comments below!!

Originally posted: May 29, 2019

Revamped: June 6, 2021

Eat for Your Summer Dance Schedule
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Jess Spinner

Jess is a former professional ballet dancer turned Holistic Health, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Coach for high level dancers. She founded The Whole Dancer in 2015 after identifying a greater need for balance, wellness and support in the dance world. Since The Whole Dancer was founded, Jess has worked with 100's of dancers worldwide at top companies and schools. She has been featured in or written for Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Pointe Magazine, and Dance Spirit Magazine.

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